Where we work
We work in Greece to support the most vulnerable members of of the refugee community.
Until the end of September 2021, we have been based on the Greek Island of Samos.
Throughout 2021, many people have left the island, mainly due to a concerted effort by the EU and Greek government to clear the camps on the Aegean Islands in preparation to move people to newly built closed camps.
The situation on Samos: a turbulent transition
Project Armonia was founded to alleviate the inhumane conditions for refugees and asylum seekers living in Samos’ former refugee camp in the town of Vathy.
Originally built for 650, the former camp housed 9,000 people in 2019 at its peak.
It was beyond unfit for human habitation. Overcrowding meant that men, women and children were forced to live in make-shift shelters in the ‘Jungle’ outside the official camp. These shelters were unfit for the sweltering summer temperatures and the harsh winters. There was no electricity or sanitation facilities. This made the journey to the official camp’s toilet facilities an impossibility at night due to the high risk of violence and sexual abuse. The sanitation facilities in the camp itself were unfit for use and overflowing with stagnant waste. To add to this, there was no official waste disposal in camp. Rubbish and refuse gather between the residents’ shelters, inviting rats, snakes and other vermin to further plague the lives of the people that lived there.
Both inside and outside the Vathy camp, people had no means to cook for themselves. Instead, food was distributed within the camp by the authorities. In the past, due to immense overcrowding, people had to queue for five to six hours to receive one meal. This meal would be grossly lacking nutrition and often came laced with bones, maggots and mould. Often, even after queuing for this amount of time, people would leave empty-handed – there was never a guarantee that food would be enough.
Over the course of 2020/21, a new camp has been constructed on a remote hillside, two hours away from the town of Vathy where Project Armonia and previous camp was based.
In preparation for the transfer to the new camp, there has been a concerted effort to reduce the number of refugees on Samos. Since the start of 2020, there has been a 91% decrease in the number of displaced people housed in the official camp and surrounding ‘Jungle’ area from 7,600 in January 2020 to 681 at the end of August 2021 (UNHCR, 2021).
Reasons for this decrease in population include accelerated decisions being made on people’s asylum claims. Additionally, throughout 2021, camp management has increased the number of transfers of people to mainland Greece in a concerted effort to reduce the number of refugees on Samos. As such, the number of refugees and asylum seekers present on mainland Greece has soared dramatically. With the move to the new camp looming, more and more people continued to leave the island of their accord (often illegally) due to the situation being so unclear as to what it will mean for them and their lives. In addition, over the past year, the frequency and brutality of ‘pushbacks’ in the Aegean Sea has increased. As a result, the number of new arrivals is extremely low.
On the 18th September 2021, the new Multi-Purpose Reception and Identification Centres (MPRICs) was opened with an inauguration ceremony on Samos. At the entrance to this new structure is a sign stating that it is a ‘Closed Controlled Access Centre’. It is a space that people have described to us as a ‘prison’, particularly the people who have been transferred there from the Vathy Camp who live behind high barbed-wire fences and are watched by security cameras and guards. This facility is based on a two-hour walk from Vathy, and a considerable distance from any other settlement.
For more information about the situation, see our media resources below.
Relocation to Athens: moving with the need
In the years that we have spent on Samos, we have witnessed many changes in relation to the refugee crisis. To be able to adapt to the evolving needs of the crisis in Greece and the shift of the population, we have recently decided to relocate to Athens where there is a crucial need for our services. We will begin operations in January 2022.
Media resources to learn more
People risk their lives to make the crossing to Europe, expecting safety. Instead, they are met with dangerous, unsanitary and deplorable conditions. If you want to know more about it, please find below links about the situation on Samos.
- ‘Worse than in Syria’ – Zenith, 07.06.2021
- Samos – a hotspot once more? – Action for Education
- Report on means to address the human rights of pushbacks of migrants – United Nations Human Rights Council, 12.05.2021
- EU sends mixed messages on Turkey as ‘safe’ haven – EU Observer, 09.06.2021
- EU powerhouses ask Greece to do more to take back migrants – Politico, 03.06.2021
- Frontex at Fault: European Border Force complicit in ‘illegal’ pushbacks – Bellningcat, 23.10.2020